Review: Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Sundance 2020)

Title: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Eliza Hittman
Starring: Ryan Eggold, Theodore Pellerin, Talia Ryder
Runtime: 1 hr 41 mins

What It Is: In a small town in Pennsylvania, Autumn (Flannigan) is a solemn seventeen-year-old who one night performs a song in her school talent show, only to be interrupted by a jock. Soon after, she recedes to a Women’s Health Clinic suspecting she could be pregnant. Turns out, she is. Determined to get an abortion, she avoids the anti-abortion clinic and travels to New York with the help of her cousin Skylar (Ryder) to get the procedure over with.

What We Think: Similar in intention yet presented with much more realism than the likes of films such as The Assistant. And by realism, I refer to the scenes in which they do handle the technical aspects and process of having to get an abortion. That hits the nail on the head, that hits home. The scenes of this young woman (among others) experiencing deception, financial problems, and physical symptoms; having to resurface her sexual traumas and tense living situation, the uncomfortable medical stages, the questioning and aid by her counselor… honestly, I haven’t seen this topic be covered with this much accuracy before. It was fascinating to watch, those parts, namely the very last aspect I listed. Yet a majority of the film had me lost and drifting. I don’t recall one interesting, naturally-formed conversation between the two leads. Apparently they’re close, close enough for Skylar to travel out of state with Autumn and support her over the course of a few days. For some reason, they don’t act like they’re very close. For as long as the runtime is, they speak very little, they have very few exchanges that are proof of their relationship. This made much of the film dreary and repetitive. The characters rarely shifted in expression or intention, rarely indulged in talking about things they liked or didn’t, rarely had any real sense of humor, which doesn’t really seem to be attributed to the actresses themselves. I think they have a lot of potential in the film still, it was merely how they were designed and written to be case studies rather than teenage girls. It was a very dry, sort of bland experience. On top of that, it just so happened that all of the female characters were well-intentioned while all of the male characters had more perverted directives. There felt as if there was little development among any of these characters and no redemption when it comes to representation. This felt like I was watching a report; an essay, even. There is a horrible, awkward irony where this follows suit of a majority of overtly, obnoxiously “feminist” flicks of Sundance that lacks many dissertations between the reality of abuse, harassment, social expectations, etc. and empty, easy brownie points. I’m getting worn out from watching movies starring women and attempt to share the women’s experience. And I’m a woman. That’s sort of cruel–and I say that on part of all the other films that have these forced narratives that expect you to lean into them entirely. I can’t stand with that, because it still barely goes in-depth into the experience of being a woman. That’s not me, that’s not the women I know because we all have actual lives and personalities that quite a few of these films seem to forget to include.

Our Grade: C-, It seems this is another one of those films that expect you to rely on the tough subject matter to discern and credit it. Despite its ability to play on realism (as if lightly regurgitating facts and experiences by real-life women), it lacked the personality and writing it needed to make me go back to think of it again, to attach and really empathize with the characters. This would perhaps be helpful for those who haven’t / aren’t familiar with the experience of needing and receiving an abortion, but I would have much rather seen a documentary. That would have certainly had acres more character and really reel in the empathy necessary for the message to make an impact.

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Chai Simone Written by: